It should come as no suprise: There is a wealth of trans artists writing songs based on, and beyond, their experiences as trans people. Those tracks can be found in genres as diverse as blues, pop, punk, hip-hop, rock, indie, gospel, and folk.
So when cisgender (nontrans) musician and founding B52's member Kate Pierson released her debut single, "Mister Sister," a song she dubbed a "trans anthem," many trans listeners and musicians responded with skepticism and outrage.
"A trans anthem, right now, is for a trans person to create," trans writer Jamie Cooper Holland states in an open letter to Pierson. "[It] isn't some nebulous rule of political correctness. It's that you don't have the experience to do it in an accurate way that doesn't contribute to stereotypes and pain."
On the following pages, we've compiled 37 songs that fit that description, written by trans artists. But it's important to note: We wouldn't exactly call them "trans anthems." After all, there's not a universal "trans" experience shared by all trans folks, and there are so many identities across the gender galaxy. All of the trans, genderqueer, nonbinary, two-spirit, and gender-nonconforming musicians listed here write about so much more than gender and adversity within their bodies of work.
Below you can find many sweet and powerful explorations of daily experiences or emotions that trans folks simply share with the rest of humanity. Then again, you can find songs here definitely written to rouse a crowd against transphobia and homophobia.
You can also listen to songs written directly about an artist's gender transition, ones about living out gender complexities more broadly, ones that are more experimental, poetic, or abstract, and many others that use humor to talk about the pleasures and pressures of existing in resistance to the status quo.
There are far too many fantastic artists in the world for us to mention on this list — so take the songs below as a beginning of a conversation, rather than a "best of" or "final word." Happy listening!
Artist: KANDACE JONES
Factoid: Rapper, singer, and cosmetologist Kandace Jones brings her signature sense of humor, relationship advice, and catchphrase "Grab your pearls!" to her YouTube channel, LilYakieTV.
Artist: JOE STEVENS (with Coyote Grace)
Track: "Guy Named Joe"
Album: Boxes and Bags (2006)
Factoid: A prolific California-based singer-songwriter, 32-year-old Joe Stevens has written more tham 1,000 songs as the former front man for Americana trio Coyote Grace and as a solo artist. "Daughterson" and "Ghost Boy" are two of his other well-known songs that address trans themes.
Artist: NAMOLI BRENNET
Track: "Thorn in Your Side"
Album: The Brighter Side of Me (2004)
Factoid: Folk-rock songwriter-performer Namoli Brennet has been featured on NPR and PBS, is a four-time OutMusic Award nominee, and was recently named to the Trans 100. She tours the U.S. constantly and has always been outspoken about being trans in both her music and in interviews.
Artist: ELI CONLEY
Album: All the Live Long Day EP (2011)
Factoid: A clasically trained singer-songwriter whose voice ranges three octaves, Eli Conley released an EP, All the Live Long Day, in 2011 with trio Eli Conley & the Hip Squares, and has since been able to fund his 2013 solo album, At the Seams, solely through fan support.
Artist: HEIDI BARTON STINK (featured in Kaoz track)
Album: Real Talk (2011)
Factoid: An artist in the HomoHop movement, Minneapolis-based Heidi Barton Stink says she "sh[ies] away from the sexualized lyrics and party songs" that have long dominated the genre, instead focusing on, among other topics, the lack of inclusion and visiblity of trans and gender-variant people in mainstream culture.
Artist: SKYLAR KERGIL
Track: "Tell Me a Story"
Album: Tell Me a Story EP (2014)
Factoid: Releasing videos regularly on Skylarkeleven, one of the most popular YouTube channels ever produced by a trans man, Skylar Kergil has also released a book from his ongoing photo project Re-humanizing the Transmasculine Community (2013).
Artist: ANGELICA ROSS
Track: "Be Strong"
Album: When Two Worlds Collide (2010)
Factoid: A multitalented musican, community advocate, photographer, and entrepreneur, Ross launched start-up TransTech in September 2014 to train trans applicants in Web development and graphic design and "set [them] on the path to independence."
Arist: LUCAS SILVEIRA (w/ the Cliks)
Album: Black Tie Elevator (2013)
Factoid: Founding popular Canadian alt-rock band the Cliks in 2004, Lucas Silveira is well-known for his fiery and sultry vocals, being the first out trans man voted "Sexiest Man in Canada" in a popular magazine, and his advocacy for LGBT people.
Artist: MYA BYRNE
Track: "Lost Angel"
Album: As I Am (2014)
Factoid: Already a roots-rock veteran prior to publicly coming out as trans in 2014, Mya Byrne has since dedicated her music and life to advocacy. One of the few openly trans women in Americana and folk, she strives to speak honestly about her experiences. This song is about her transition, from her recently released solo debut album.
Full disclosure: Byrne coauthored this piece with The Advocate's trans issues correspondent.
Artist: SHAWNEE TALBOT
Track: "Mirror Me"
Album: She King EP (2013)
Factoid: Also known as She King, aboriginal artist Shawnee Talbot of the Mohawk First Nation is one of contemporary Canadian music's only out two-spirit performers. Two-spirit — an indigenous identity that is often equated with "gay" or "trans" in Western culture, but is not exactly reducible to either — is a sense of self that Talbot describes as "possess[ing] wisdom from the male and female sides of the gender spectrum."
Artist: AMASHA GREYSON
Track: "The Other Side" (Cover)
Factoid: New to the pop and R&B scene, Amasha Greyson is already developing a following for her warm presence and catchy covers, including an impressive rendition of "For Good" from the musical Wicked.
Artist: JOSHUA KLIPP
Album: Won't Stop Now (2007)
Artist: LAURA JANE GRACE (with Against Me!)
Album: Transgender Dysphoria Blues (2013)
Factoid: Laura Jane Grace made a stir in the music world when she came out as a trans woman to Rolling Stone in 2012. Since then, she and Against Me!, the popular punk band she's fronted since age 17, have released Transgender Dysphoria Blues — an album The Advocate called "brutally honest ... in addressing trans themes" — and Grace has released a documentary series for AOL Originals titled True Trans With Laura Jane Grace.
Author's Note: The song below is full of images that many trans women will recognize. While some may criticize its presence here due to the themes of clothing and makeup, we feel that, coming from a trans artist, these images have a much different intent and power than when a nontrans artist appropriates them as media tropes about our lives.
Artist: ATHENS BOYS CHOIR
Album: Rhapsody in T (2004)
Factoid: Often mistaken for a group act, Athens Boys Choir is the solo project of comedic musician Harvey Katz. "OK, so the name ... can be a bit misleading," he writes on his website, "but you can't blame a Jewish Transsexual, who came into manhood in the Deep South, for having a sense of humor about the whole ordeal."
Track: "The Queen"
Album: The Queen (2014)
Factoid: ICEISRain is the female spirit of aboriginal two-spirit businessman Massey Whiteknife of the Mikisew Cree First Nation. A female- and male-identified artist, Rain/Whiteknife gained notoriety as both a featured performer in the documentary Oil Sands Karaoke and for building up several oil sands-based businesses very quickly into a multimillion-dollar operation.
Arist: BLACK CRACKER
Track: "Chasing Rainbows"
Album: Poster Boy (2014)
Factoid: Ellison Renee Glenn, better known as underground rapper Black Cracker, is a producer, emcee, and poet who has been widely featured in media including CNN, Vice, Original Plumbing, and The New York Times.
Artist: EVAN GREER
Track: "Never Surrender"
Album: Never Surrender (2009)
Factoid: Boston-based Evan Greer describes herself as a "radical genderqueer folk-punk-mama kicking catchy singsongs for liberation." A pioneer of the riot-folk movement, she dedicates her life to bettering humanity through song and direct action. Greer's music was compared to that of Phil Ochs by the late Howard Zinn, and she recently helped organize the "Internet Slowdown" to support net neutrality.
Track: "Binding of Isaac"
Album: The Whale That Ate Jonah (2013)
Factoid: Though now disbanded, in its early 2010s heyday Schmekel was the only out all-trans Jewish folk punk-queercore band. The group had a cameo in a scene of the final book in celebrated out author Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City series, The Days of Anna Madrigal.
Artist: ANTONY AND THE JOHNSONS
Track "Bird Gehrl"
Album: I Am a Bird Now (2005)
Factoid: Antony Hegarty was born in the U.K. but spent most of her adult life in the U.S. She has talked extensively about her transgender identity and named her band for Stonewall veteran Marsha P. Johnson. Hegarty's breakthrough album, I Am a Bird Now, was awarded the Mercury Prize. This beautifully meditative track was featured on the soundtrack of V for Vendetta.
Artist: ELISHA LIM & RAE SPOON
Track: "Stand by Your Trans"
Factoid: Nonbinary Canadian artists Elisha Lim and Rae Spoon penned "Stand by Your Trans" in response to a 2011 firestorm in Canadian LGBT media over the use of gender-neutral pronouns (including "they," "ze," and "hir"). Both have also published books, including Lim's 100 Crushes and Spoon's Gender Failure (written with Ivan E. Coyote).
Arist: DALICE MALICE
Track: "Yankee Girl"
Factoid: Queer, trans alt-folk singer Dalice Malice has released more than 20 albums, singles, and EPs since 2005 and was named an Unrecognized Artist of the Year by the Museum of Transgender History and Art in 2013.
Artist: STORMMIGUEL FLOREZ
Track: "The Clocktower"
Album: Long Lost Sun (2010)
Factoid: A mainstay in the trans indie arts scene, StormMiguel Florez teamed with filmmaker Annelise Ophelian in 2014 to begin producing MAJOR!, a documentary about living trans rights legend Miss Major Griffin-Gacy.
Artist: BETHEL STEELE
Track: "Beautiful Boy"
Album: Of Love and Whiskey (2012)
Factoid: Bethel Steele has received many of folk music's highest honors. A 2013 Kerrville New Folk finalist as well as a Falcon Ridge Emerging Artist, Steele calls Boston home. "Beautiful Boy" helped Steele win the Passim Iguana Music Fund Award as part of a proposal to create conversations that advocate for Boston's queer youth.
Track: Untitled rap on acceptance
Artist: SHAWNA VIRAGO
Album: Objectified (2012)
Factoid: Iconic folk-punk artist Shawna Virago is known for her edgy style, unapologetic stances on language and sexuality, and for being the artistic director of the groundbreaking San Francisco Transgender Film Festival.
Artist: CN LESTER
Album: Aether (2014)
Factoid: London-based CN Lester uses their classically trained piano and voice skills to produce atmospheric, emotional music. A writer and activist, Lester appeared in popular U.K. documentary series My Genderation in 2013.
Artist: AUDREY ZEE WHITESIDES (with Little Waist)
Track: "I Wanna Be a Dyke Wife"
Album: Some Kinda Comfort (2014)
Factoid: Fronted by Audrey Zee Whitesides, Brooklyn-based queercore-transcore trio Little Waist strikes a revolutionary chord with this raw, blistering track about queer domestic bliss. Their new album, Some Kinda Comfort, was recorded live and oozes danceable punk energy.
Artist: ROCCO KATASTROPHE
Track: "Wake Me If I'm Dreaming"
Album: Second Hand Emotion (2012)
Factoid: A spoken-word artist turned rapper, Rocco Katastrophe is widely credited as one of the first out trans male performers in hip-hop. In 2009 he collaborated with photographer Amos Mac to launch the first quarterly magazine on trans male culture, Original Plumbing.
Artist: ATARU NAKAMURA
Track: "Tomodachi no Uta" ("Poem of Friends")
Factoid: A native of Tokyo, Ataru Nakamura plays guitar, piano, and drums. Her music ranges between pop and the traditional Japanese enka-style ballad. She won great acclaim for this song, released in 2006, which she wrote at age 14. Though she's stated it was written about the friends she had to say goodbye to upon leaving junior high school, the crushingly beautiful lyrics contain very trans-focused themes. Her music has propelled her to the top of the charts, and this track was also chosen as the theme song for a Japanese TV show about a trans woman.
Artist: RUBY ROSE
Track: "Break Free"
Factoid: Gender-fluid DJ and model Ruby Rose is one of the most recognizable faces in Australia today. Her short autobiographical film Break Free became a mini-sensation when it was released, garnering nearly 2 million hits on YouTube.
Artist: RUTH PEARCE (with Not Right)
Album: Your Turn (2014)
Factoid: Fronting Not Right, a trio with "punk attitude, riot grrrrl aesthetic, [and] queer feminist rage," bassist Ruth Pearce is also completing a Ph.D. in sociology and has written about — among other topics — trans music, DIY culture, and blogging.
Artist: TY NIC
Track: "Who I Am"
Factoid: Illinois-based trans teen Ty Nic released "Who I Am" with the help of his supportive audio engineer dad. Nic wrote the song to send the message that youth know who they are and should feel comfortable and respected when they express themselves.He debuted the accompanying music video with the Transgender Law Center in June.
Artist: MINA CAPUTO
Track: "Young Girl"
Album: As Much Truth as One Can Bear (2013)
Factoid: Becoming one of the first openly trans women in heavy metal when she came out in 2011, Mina Caputo is the founder and lead singer of legendary band Life of Agony. Despite some initial backlash from some in the metal community, she has since been widely embraced, with Life of Agony reuniting in 2014 to sold-out shows, and Caputo joining Laura Jace Grace on an acoustic tour.
Artist: RYAN CASSATA
Track: "Soda Cans"
Album: The Rhythm LP (2012)
Factoid: Long Island native Ryan Cassata wrote seven albums, toured the country as a speaker, and appeared on TV several times — including on Larry King Live, The Tyra Show, and CNN — all before the age of 21.
Track: "The Queer Song"
Factoid: Rosanonymous is a queer, trans punk from Oakland, Calif., who relentlessly supports her community through creating safe space for queer/trans art and other forms of revolutionary kindness. This song, recorded live, is dedicated to that work.
Our final two musicians' stories represent something that we hope will change: Living in silence, their trans selves only revealed after death.
Artist: Dave Carter (with Tracy Grammer)
Track: "Phantom Doll" and "41 Thunderer"
Album: Flowers of Avalon (2005) and Drum Hat Buddha (2001)
Factoid: One of the most influential folk songwriters in the modern era, Dave Carter died in 2002 while on a major tour with partner Tracy Grammer. In 2006, Grammer revealed that Carter had begun transitioning and was planning to publicly come out as female.
"Phantom Doll" was the last song Carter wrote and, according to Grammar, the lyrics represent the journey Carter was on. Carter recorded a haunting original demo of "Phantom Doll" just 24 hours before dying; though the duo never got the chance to properly record it, Grammer sung it in tribute on her first solo record. But to make sure Carter's own voice was heard too, we've also included "41 Thunderer," a Western-style song with some subtle trans themes and images.
Artist: Little Ax (with the Golden Echoes)
Track: "You Are My Sunshine" (Cover)
Album: Remember Me b/w The Lord Is My Sunshine (1963)
Factoid: Willmer "Little Ax" Broadnax was a successful gospel singer who worked with notable acts like the Fairfield Four and the Blind Boys of Alabama. In the '50s and '60s, he headed his own group, the Golden Echoes. The music they recorded was rather progressive for the time and combined an R&B influence with traditional gospel harmonies. His arrangement of the classic "You Are My Sunshine" is unlike any other. Broadnax worked into his '70s and was stabbed to death in 1992, having kept his trans identity hidden like so many others of the era.
Despite the beauty and talent of these artists, if you view some of the links on YouTube, you may see antitrans comments. Sadly, this is reflective of our need for greater acceptance, and we quite honestly urge you to pay them no mind, if you can.